How NASS sabotaged bids to revive economy since 1999

• N107tr Loan Yields Least Impact
• CSOs Issue Wake-up Call

Implementation of no fewer than 270 laws enacted by the National Assembly to remedy major ailments in the nation’s economy since 1999 have suffered frustration and sabotage due to failure by the lawmakers to strictly carry out their parliamentary oversight or supervision functions .

Ironically, the National Assembly has hosted a total of 3,283 legislators within the same period that spanned seven different legislative terms. The apex lawmaking organ has also expended not less that N3 trillion on its operations in the last 14 years.

Constitutionally, the National Assembly is empowered to carry out thorough checks through investigations and oversight on all projects and programmes for which it appropriates funds or has powers to enact laws.

Specifically, oversight refers to the part of legislature’s responsibility that pertains to reviewing and monitoring of public sector organizations and their policies, plans, programmes and projects to ensure that they achieve expected results, represent good value for money, and to ensure that their actions are in compliance with applicable policies, laws, regulations, and ethical standards.

From June 1999 to date, the National Assembly, in the seven terms it has spent so far, hosted a total of 3,283 legislators made up of 469 persons elected to represent 109 senatorial districts and 360 federal constituencies for every term of four years.

However, poor legislative scrutiny and failure to sanction acts of indiscipline in the execution of the laws, particularly on economy, have compounded matters.

Sectors of the economy that have suffered weak legislative oversight despite several laws and resolutions enacted in such areas include agriculture, electricity, revenue generation, aviation, petroleum and gas, trade and investment, finance, anti-graft, and marine transportation. Others are solid minerals development, steel, water resources, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

Despite the over N3 trillion it has budgeted for itself, particularly in the last 14 years, key officials in the National Assembly disclosed that the institution had been contending with serious operational issues such as inadequate funding of some of its core responsibilities like oversight checks.

A glance at the breakdown of budgets of the National Assembly showed that from 2011 to 2014, it got N150 billion annually. But in 2015, the Assembly got 115 for its activities while it voted N125 billion for itself in 2016 and another N125 billion in 2017. In 2018, it got N139.5 billion: N125 billion in 2019; N128 billion in 2020 and N134 billion in 2021. The body got N139 billion in 2022, N170 billion in 2023 and N344.85 billion in 2024.

In many instances, controversies have been generated over reports that legislators relied on agencies for funding of oversight functions, a situation that has made the apex legislative body to compromise in its responsibilities.

Critical observers of events in the National Assembly, particularly the civil society organisations (CSOs) as well as experts and stakeholders on economy and business related issues have admonished the National Assembly to wake up and take its oversight functions more seriously.

A key area where observers have raised concerns is the management of the N107 trillion loans so far approved and taken.

The 1999 Constitution (as amended) that empowers the National Assembly to scrutinise and approve loans for the Federal Government also gave it powers to investigate and impose sanctions for mismanagement of such loans.

The Debt Management Office (DMO) has revealed that Nigeria’s total public debt stock as at September 30, 2023, was N87.91tr, comprising total external debt of N31.98tr and total domestic debt of N55.93tr.

“The major addition to the Public Debt Stock was the inclusion of the N22.712tr securitized FGN’s Ways and Means Advances.”

Also, the Senate, as of December 2023, approved President Bola Tinubu’s request to borrow $7.8 billion and €100m as part of the Federal Government’s 2022-2024 borrowing plan. This is in addition to the new securitisation of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s N7.3tr Ways and Means advances.

Just last week, a coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) led by the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, charged the National Assembly to probe the $3.4billion loan collected by the Federal Government from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April 2020 without proof of expenditure on anything.

They also faulted the unending requests for loans by the Federal Government and expeditious approvals given by the National Assembly with little or nothing to point at as what the loans were used for.

According to the CSOs, savings made by the government from fuel subsidy removal from May last year till date have not been accounted for even as Nigerians wallow in hunger and pains.

The nine CSOs alleged that the incessant loan collections by the Federal Government made the debt profile of the country to hit alarming mark of
N107.9 trillion.

“The escalating debt burden has profound implications for the well – being of Nigerians, and failure to act quickly could result in an additional 23million Nigerians living in poverty and 80 million working – age citizens without a full time job by 2030,” they said.

In its own reaction, the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) expressed belief that to get the economy back on its feet, citizens need to prevail on the National Assembly to be alive to its responsibilities of checking the executive.

National Coordinator of HURIWA, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, said in an interview with The Guardian that, “Nigerians need to embark on protests to get the National Assembly to do their work. If we don’t protest consistently, it will continue as business as usual, and the president will transform into a totalitarian president.”

Meanwhile, critics have expressed misgivings about the fate of the aspect of the National Assembly’s constitutional responsibilities regarding investigations for purposes of exposing corruption, waste or to effect changes in existing laws.

For every Act it enacts for the purpose of building the economy, there is the compelling need to mount pressure and monitor Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), which have the duties of executing the laws, observers have noted.

A glance at the number of legislations made between 2007 and June, 2023 (16 years) showed that the David Mark-led 6th and 7th National Assembly passed over 200 bills out of which 106 were directly or indirectly related to the economy.

Similarly, the Abubakar Bukola Saraki-led National Assembly passed a total of 518 bills out of which only 102 succeeded in becoming law till date. Over 71 of these are economy-related laws. The Ahmad Lawan-led National Assembly passed over 500 bills but 131 received presidential assent, 90 of them are related to the economy.

The failure of the National Assembly in ensuring compliance with such laws, particularly those relevant to the revival of the economy, has remained major cause of frustration of efforts to revive the country’s economy.

A controversial statement made by the immediate past president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has made critics to come to the conclusion that the failure of the National Assembly to effectually activate its oversight role over the executive is not unconnected with Lawan’s statement that “Any request from the President is good for the nation, and [the Senate] will act on it.”

Ironically, even the leadership of the National Assembly has been lamenting on the “helplessness” of the legislature in performing its constitutional responsibilities.

At the convocation ceremony of the Post-graduate and Higher National Diploma Programmes of the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, the former Senate President absolved the Assembly of responsibility for the precarious state of the nation.

He asserted that the legislature lacked the powers to curb corruption and wasteful expenditure in government. He wondered why the public is more focused on the federal parliament, which gets less than one per cent of the annual budget, than the executive arm of government, which consumes about 99 per cent.

He further queried the efficacy of the parliamentary powers to investigate and issue a warrant of arrest without the complementary power of enforcement.

“The legislature is really incapacitated, that is the fact because we can’t do anything. If you sign the warrant of arrest against someone and the person refused to appear before the National Assembly, nothing will happen because we have no police of our own in the National Assembly to send to go and arrest that person. The reality is that the legislature in Nigeria is incapacitated,” Lawan said.

From one National Assembly to the other, series of legislative interventions had been made in a bid to strengthen the economy. However, the same National Assembly that has the constitutional power to sanction the executive arm of government for breaches of such laws had complained that its oversight functions were being sabotaged by the MDAs.

Most of the legislations were, among others, aimed at checking leakages and opening up more revenue bases for the economy. The list of legislations by both chambers of the National Assembly with respect to economy is a long one.

Lawan, in reviewing the work done by the 9th National Assembly, said:
“We passed numerous legislations to stimulate the Nigerian economy and improve the ease of doing business. These include the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act 2020; Finance Act 2020; Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020; and the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract (Amendment) Act 2019.

“To enhance accountability and promote good governance, we also enacted the Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act 2022; Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act 2022; and Police Act 2020, among others. Critically too, we successfully enacted the Electoral Act 2022, which reformed our electoral process to enhance transparency and inspire greater voter confidence.

The National Social Investment Programme Agency Act 2023 institutionalises and provides a legal framework for government programmes targeting the poor and vulnerable.”

According to Lawan, the 9th Assembly passed 16 constitution alteration bills targeted at, among other things, providing for the financial independence of state Houses of Assembly and state judiciary; decongesting the Exclusive Legislative List by moving railway to the Concurrent Legislative List; authorising states to generate, transmit and distribute electricity in areas covered by the national grid; and making it mandatory for the President and governors to submit the names of persons nominated as ministers or commissioners within 60 days of taking the Oath of Office for confirmation by the Senate or state House of Assembly.

His predecessor, Saraki, had also explained how the 8th tenure of the National Assembly worked conscientiously to grow the economy by passing enabling bills which include the Companies and Allied Matters Act; Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act; Credit Bureau Reporting Act and the Warehouse Receipts Bill; Nigerian Railways Authority Bill; and National Transportation Commission Bill.

According to him, these bills were designed to bring about notable reforms to the business environment and strengthen Nigeria’s lending frameworks.

“We are particularly glad that the impact of the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act and the Credit Bureau Reporting Act became apparent immediately after they were signed into law as they form the basis for which the World Bank upgraded the rating of Nigeria in its annual Ease of Doing Business rating.” he said.

He expressed optimism that the new Company and Allied Matter Act (CAMA) would bring about more significant results and help small and medium scale entrepreneurs access capital and upscale their businesses.

Some other important bills passed by the 8th Senate are the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Bill; Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill; Witness Protection Bill; Whistleblower Protection Bill, and the Federal Audit Service Commission Bill.

Senator David Mark, who presided over the 6th and 7th Senate, listed some landmark bills passed under his leadership. They include the Pension Reform Act 2014; National Health Act; Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act; and the Terrorism (Prevention) Act.

“We gave maximum support to the government. We passed the Bill for an Act to amend the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2012, and we approved a loan of U.S.$1 billion for the government to procure arms and equipment needed to tackle security challenges in the country,” Mark said.

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